Milk and cats go together like dogs and bones. So it's no surprise that prison dairy farms, such as the one at Wyoming Correctional Facility in Attica, is a magnet for felines.
But Governor Paterson's cost-cutting decision to eliminate farm operations at correctional facilities has put prisoners' "pets" in peril.
A tipster at Attica let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. He said inmates were told to quit feeding the cats, some of which are "orphans" from Genesee County.
But starvation and neglect tactics would be unlawful, a misdemeanor for "failure to provide sustenance" under Agriculture and Markets regulations.
The correctional authorities claimed no knowlege of the situation when Sue Davila inquired about it last week. She's a state licensed animal cruelty investigator with the Wyoming County SPCA.
Up to 100 cats are believed to be living at the facility, which Davila got permission to visit last week. She and SPCA board member Janice Stenman, aided by guards and inmates managed to round up 14 cats and kittens. Live traps were put out Monday to catch more.
The animals confiscated Friday were tested for disease and given immunizations. They were treated as needed for fleas, worms, ear mites and given antiobiotics. One very pregnant female had a gaping abcess on her neck. One had a respiratory infection, one was brain damaged and a male was neutured and declawed.
"Part of the problem is local -- people show up at night and dump their cats at the prison," Stenman said. "It's not entirely the prison's fault that (the cats) are there."
The problem is not new.
Stenman said a guard told her that four years ago an order was given to get rid of the cats. They were corraled into a shed and a truck driver backed up to the shed and gassed the cats with exhaust fumes. They were purportedly then dumped into a mass grave and their killer got a bounty of $8 per cat. No one wants to talk about it publicly, Stenman said, because they fear reprisals.
The dairy farm cats are indoors only -- use to being fed and thus unsuited to suddenly fending for themselves. Perhaps some may become adoptable once they are quarantined and evaluated.
Speaking of which, the folks at the donation-dependant SBCA are feeling kind of desparate.
"This situation has put horrible pressure on us," Stenman said, adding that money for food and medication plus a barn to use as a temporary quarantine site are the most immediate needs.
Wyoming County SPCA is a no-kill facility which can accommodate 200 cats, not 300. It also accepts animals from facilities in several other counties.
Lollipop Farm in Monroe County is also a no-kill facility that works with SPCAs and volunteers to care for homeless pets.
In Genesee County, the government animal shelter in Batavia can handle caging for 25 to 35 cats at a time, but by law only those from Genesee County residents.
Local animal control officer Aggie Jaroszewski said 578 cats were adopted or found foster homes through the Genesee shelter last year.
Those were the lucky ones. Many cats are euthanized. If feral populations in particular are allowed to grow unfettered, the incidence of sickness and disease increases. Last year, a cat tested positive for rabies in the Village of Leroy, Jaroszewski said.
Feral or nearly feral cat populations are not uncommon in mobile home parks and apartments, places where property owners often ban pets, Jaroszewski said.